Women comprise almost 70% of the global health and care workforce but hold only 25% of senior leadership positions. A new WHO Policy Action Paper Closing the leadership gap: gender equity and leadership in the global health and care workforce launched on 8th June 2021 by the WHO’s Global Health Workforce Network’s Gender Equity Hub, which is co-chaired by WHO and Women in Global Health. The Policy Action Paper explores the current status of women in leadership in the health and care sector, which employs millions of women worldwide, and the negative impact for women and health systems of their underrepresentation in leadership. The Policy Action Paper contributes insights into women’s leadership in health and care and policy interventions to ensure more gender equitable and representative leadership.
The Action Paper builds on a WHO report published in 2019 – Delivered by Women, Led by Men: A gender and Equity Analysis of the Global Health and Social Workforce‘ – which highlighted a significant gender leadership gap in the health and social workforce and provides practical examples of gender transformative policies for policymakers to incorporate gender equity into health and care workforce policies. It proposes a Framework for Change with four action areas:
1. Build a foundation for equality
2. Address social norms and stereotypes
3. Address workplace systems and culture
4. Enable women to achieve
It also stresses that concerted policy measures must be put in place at all levels from legal frameworks and public policy to organisational and interpersonal levels to enable women to succeed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of global health security and the contribution made by health and care workers, the majority of whom are women. In recognition, the World Health Assembly designated 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers. Also in 2021, the UN Women Generation Equality Campaign aims to accelerate gender equality and mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The low representation of women in leadership roles in health and care weakens health systems and global health security. Women are the experts in the health systems they essentially deliver. Gender equal leadership in global health is the foundation for universal health coverage, strong health systems and global health security. This Policy Action Paper confirms that feasible policy interventions exist to ensure more gender-equitable and representative leadership in health and social care and that it is everybody’s business.